When we look back at our lives, it’s often astonishing to see how much things change over time. Even when our schedules and situations seem the same from week to week, change and growth are nevertheless at work. It’s like a garden; with soil, sun, and water, even the smallest of seeds can become the largest of trees, though we cannot see it happening from one moment to another.
Similar development is not just true of our external circumstances, but of our interior lives, too. Our souls go through slow, imperceptible seasons of growth and require constant care so that we can tend to the goodness we wish to plant in them. If we’re not attentive, then the “weeds” of attachment or toxic relationships can choke out flowers of love and virtue in our lives.
English journalist Rudyard Kipling put it like this: “Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.” In other words, the act of creating beauty – even in our souls – requires work.
Yet, while we can learn how to cultivate beauty externally, how do we cultivate it internally? Since our souls are intangible, it can help to look to concrete examples and analogies for guidance. Continuing with the image of a garden, then, we can learn a lot.
Till the Soil: Create a Fertile Foundation
To cultivate interior growth, we must first begin with a rich foundation. We must assess our environments and ask ourselves what contaminants are dwelling there. Are our schedules open and life-giving, or are they packed and depleting? Are there commitments or stressors we could give up? What about the people in our lives? In order to grow, we must be sure to surround ourselves with those who inspire, encourage, and support us. Think about the people and activities that foster the most happiness in your life and consider adjusting your current circumstances to allow more space for them.
Plant the Seeds: Set Your Intentions
When choosing what seeds to plant, a gardener first selects what flowers and fruits she wants to grow. In our own lives, what are the qualities we wish to cultivate within ourselves? How do we wish to be known and remembered? The intentions we sow in our lives depend on the kind of people we desire to be. Whether we want to be kinder, more present, live bolder, or simpler, we must figure out the fruit we wish to harvest before we’re able to tend to those qualities.
Water the Garden: Feed Your Hopes
After deciding what characteristics we wish to work on in ourselves, the next obvious step is to start making consistent, actual changes in order to manifest those traits. You want to be kinder? Start practicing random acts of kindness. You want to feel more connected to loved ones? Find opportunities to be more present in their lives. Watering a garden can be hard work, but it doesn’t have to be a chore. Create self-care habits that are both fulfilling and fun, whatever those might be: meditation, volunteer work, time in nature, slower lunches, words of affirmation, or fun workouts. Telling others about our goals, too, can be motivating and help keep us accountable.
Prune the Weeds: Make Room for Growth
Time to evaluate. What’s holding us back from making progress? Perhaps we’re afraid of doing something new, of what others think about us, or even a belief we harbor about who we are or aren’t. It can be difficult to examine ourselves, but if we seek out the weeds and thorns that are slowing down our progress, we can root them out and make more room for growth.
Harvest the Fruit: Celebrate Your Progress
The best part of having a garden and the reason for cultivating it is, of course, the ripened fruits and the blooming flowers. In our own lives, we often won’t be able to see the full fruits of our efforts, but it’s important to celebrate whatever positive changes we have been able to make. Instead of focusing on what we still lack, let’s remember the progress that has taken place and delight in that. And let us admire each other’s gardens, too. Encouraging one another on our paths is beneficial to all, and a harvest is best when shared.
Remember, the work of a creating and maintaining a garden is ongoing, and so is life. It isn’t about reaching certain milestones; it’s an adventure. With that in mind, darlings, let’s get outside and live in the sunshine.